Getting Into Viking with Ivan Brandon

Last week, we posted the teaser for the April-launching Viking, a “9th century crime comic” by writer Ivan Brandon and artist Nic Klein. And that was it – just the teaser.

Today, we speak with Brandon about the book, its characters, his motivation, and more.

Newsarama: You've worked with the criminal underground in Cross Bronx and NYC Mech. Why did you choose to go back to the ninth century for Viking?

Ivan Brandon: It's a logical progression, for a broken brain like the one I use. Vikings were the original strongarm men. But I want to make clear from the start that my goal isn't really to do a book about history. It's a crime book, a character book that happens in a certain era, but it's less about that era than it is about people.

NRAMA: What's different about being a thug then, apart from fur fashion?

IB: A lot of what's most obvious at first are the aesthetic and technological differences in achieving similar goals. But once you dive in you start to realize how much there is in common with modern organized crime. Hell, down to the names, Bram The Quiet meet Fat Jimmy. In this case our story centers on Finn and Egil, two brothers who are basically doing crimes to make a name for themselves, the equivalent of two modern thugs trying to get “made”.

NRAMA: From what I've seen, the tone of the book isn't the heavy metal doom one might expect from a Viking comic. How modern is the voice of Viking?

IB: There's a preconception that accompanies almost any mention of Vikings... people picture dragons and horned helmets and I really more than anything wanted to do a book that very clearly wasn't just for kids who play Dungeons and Dragons. I remember when I was a kid a Western was a very specific thing: dad would watch Shane by himself and mom would make herself scarce. Then Deadwood came along and the Western wasn't just for your dad anymore, you know?

I'm nowhere near as smart as David Milch, but I desperately wanted to make a comic that would appeal to my girlfriend as much as it would my cousin who owns the 97 hour long versions of The Lord of The Rings. Hopefully that comes off in how Nic Klein and I have presented the material. We've very deliberately tried to avoid any of that fantasy aesthetic. Which isn't to say we're working toward the exclusion of the fans of the more niche stuff, so much as we're working toward the inclusion of everyone else.

NRAMA: Speaking of Milch and his approach, does Viking have a big ensemble cast, or do we follow Finn and Egil pretty tightly?

IB: Including Finn and Egil there are about five major players and another five or so that aren't far behind in importance to the story. And there are any number of men throwing spears and knives at that ensemble.

NRAMA: Brian Wood has been playing in the Norse sandbox recently with Northlanders. Are you treading on similar ground in Viking?

IB: There aren’t any similarities that are intentional… though we’re obviously hitting the market after Northlanders, Viking’s been in the works for about as long and the first 2 arcs of Viking have been plotted for years at this point.

And to hopefully sidestep any potential drama the internet might seek out, Vertigo’s been aware of the book from the very beginning… Brian Wood, editor Will Dennis and I have all talked and shared beer and Chinese food and I think it’s a great time in comics when you can find more than one Viking book on the shelf.

NRAMA: Were you a fan of Viking history before you thought of this story?

IB: Who isn't? But I wasn't a historian by any stretch, I've learned a thousand times more about Vikings since I started than I knew going in.

NRAMA: It's nice to see that the book's priced at $2.99, with prices creeping toward $5 elsewhere. How deliberate was that choice?

IB: It was a very deliberate choice and not an easy one to make. There's a pretty significant financial argument to be made by raising the prices and as I'm sure everyone can tell, it's an argument that's getting embraced by most of the industry right now. I've looked at the option to raise the prices on all of my creator-owned books since 2006 and probably lost a fair bit of money by choosing the way I did. But in this wonked economy more than ever I thought it was important to keep the price down, so we looked into different printing options and figured out a way to print the book without losing everyone's shirt. And we're printing on the best paper I've ever had on any of my books with a painted cardstock cover and spot-gloss to try to incentivize it even further.

NRAMA: The art I've seen for this seems pretty progressive: what can you tell us about how you and Nic are approaching Viking's look?

IB: There are no hard and fast rules... we're going for realism until it conflicts with spontaneity. The characters all for the most part will hold fairly true to history, but you know: not everyone dresses or acts uniformly a particular way in 2009 and Viking's no different in that regard. Nic's got free reign to express himself however he likes and lucky for all of us that means paint and ink and Photoshop and anything else he gets into his hands. He's evolving on every page and we all get to watch him go.

NRAMA: Tell us about Nic Klein. How'd you get hooked up with him?

IB: Most independent creators complain about "the majors" poaching their talent, so let’s turn that around for a second: a couple years ago at a meal or a bar or somewhere... I'd asked Axel Alonso who he'd seen recently come into Marvel that he was excited about, and Nic's name was the top of his list. Axel being a man who’s hard to impress, I went and looked Nic up to see what was so great that it impressed this cynical shell of a man who knows no happiness or sunshine. And there was Nic and his crazy website and portfolio that were all about experimentation.

I got in touch with Nic and just started a dialogue with him about the book and we hit it off famously. And beyond the obvious and absurd level of talent he's bringing to the book, more than that he's as invested in all of it as much as I am if not more, which is beyond refreshing. Nic's got a mountain of research and design he's done to get everything right and we talk almost every day. His enthusiasm is infectious. Or scary.

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